Captain's Tips

Spring Checkup: Commissioning Winterized Boats

When the Waters Warm Up, Will your Boat Be Ready?


When it comes to boat maintenance, the saying “pay me now or pay me later” comes to mind. Taking time and effort to assess and attend to your boat’s numerous systems and hull upkeep help ensure continued safe and enjoyable cruising.

For many boaters, spring is the time for the trip back north after cruising in the Bahamas or warm climates. Regardless of which scenario fits your boat, several items should certainly be included in your bow-to- stern checkup. Before you begin, read up on the manufacturer’s recommendations for spring commissioning or annual maintenance of your vessel. Getting Geared Up for the New Season Spring cleaning begins with a good washdown with soap and water, when you can inspect the topsides and hull for areas that need extra attention.

A blue vessel on a boatlift read for service
Credit: nikitje from Getty Images Signature

Look around hatches and windows that may need to be re-caulked. Check the deck hardware around the boat to ensure all screws and bolts are properly tightened and bedded correctly.

Before stowing any covers, be sure to clean and dry them so they are in good shape at the end of the season. Once the boat is clean, a good wax job helps protect the paint or gelcoat and makes the boat look its best. If the boat is out of the water, check the running gear and thru-hulls to ensure they are clean and properly protected and coated with anti- fouling paint. Inspect anodes that protect the rudders, shafts props and thru-hulls. Anodes more than 50% deteriorated should be replaced.

If the boat is in the water, hire a diver who specializes in boat hull cleaning. Professional divers know what to look for and provide a report on issues you can’t see while the boat is afloat. In addition to inspecting the bottom paint, running gear and anodes, divers ensure the props and shafts have no debris or growth and can scrape or clean the bottom based on your instructions.

During your spring checkup, take inventory and inspect safety gear on board. Life jackets, flares, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), sounding device, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and CO2 and fire detectors should be examined and updated as needed. Ensure life jackets are accessible, free of mold or mildew, and all buckles are in working order. Check flares for expiration dates and test EPIRB batteries.

Verify your horn or other signaling devices are in working order. This is also a good time to brief your crew on emergency procedures for fires and other mishaps to make sure everyone knows where the safety gear is located.

Commissioning | credit HABY from Getty Images Signature

Inventory the contents of your first aid kit. Replace items used the prior year and make sure medicines and supplies are within the expiration date. Being familiar with your first aid kit will make it easier to use in an emergency.

Fire extinguishers and fixed fire systems for the engine room should be inspected annually. Many marinas can help locate a professional fire inspection company like Pye-Barker, who have inspectors up and down the East Coast and understand marine fire safety requirements. All smoke detectors and CO2 detectors should be tested, and batteries replaced, and be sure all guest accommodations have CO2 detectors.

Your spring checkup in the engine space should include hoses, clamps and belts for cracks, corrosion and potential breaks. Clamps on exhaust hoses, engines, rudders, bilge hoses and any other thru hull clamp should be inspected closely for rust and corrosion. Replace any that look suspect. If you have winterized and closed all seacocks, now is the time to operate each one (open/close) to ensure they are working correctly and not stuck in one position. Open all seacocks needed for operating the boat. Many impellers, pumps and engines are damaged each year due to seacocks being left closed, because the owners are in a hurry to get back out on the water.

Fuel systems should be checked for leaks in engine spaces, fuel fill and fuel tank if accessible. Examine fuel filters for any debris, then clean or replace as needed. Verify batteries are fully charged, and if you have wet cells, top off cells with distilled water that
are low.

Inspect all engines (propulsion and generators) for proper oil and coolant. Refer to manufacturer’s instructions on levels and replacement cycles. Again, be certain seacocks can open and close and make sure to open seacocks for generators and engines if you are just launching
the boat.

Check all bilge pumps, high water sensors/alarms and bilge switches for proper operation. Verify all pumps operate when the float switch is lifted as well as with the manual switch if installed. Don’t skip the ones that are hard to get to or have stowed gear over the access hatch, and ensure all pumps are working. Remember, “Pay me now or pay me later.”

Test your steering to see if rudders and steering will turn end-to-end, left and right. Inspect the condition of steering hardware and cables. If hydraulic, check the fluid levels per manufacturer’s recommendation. Look over your boat electronics, boating apps on mobile devices and navigational software for necessary updates. Inspect all navigation lights for proper operation, and if you had a long winter break, refresh your knowledge of navigation and safe boating practices.

If you would like help assessing items on your boat, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers vessel safety inspections that may give you peace of mind. These inspections focus on safety and navigation requirements, and they will issue you a Vessel Safety Check sticker. For more, go to
Using a bow-to-stern checkup checklist at the start of a spring boating season can help assure you will make the most of your time on the water and minimize problems and projects in the future.

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